Hillsboro, Kan. - Early season games are always a challenge, but add in variables of a young team, a new roster and coach for the opponent, and a five-hour bus ride, and sometimes the challenges can be difficult to overcome. This was the case for the College of the Ozarks Bobcats as they traveled to Tabor College to take on the Bluejays. With a new head coach and a host of transfers on the roster, information was hard to come by for Coach Steve Shepherd and his staff in preparation. The Tabor roster was full of new faces, several of which are transfers, including 1st year head coach Matt Warren on the sideline. The Bobcats have a lot of fresh faces on their roster as well, with a host of freshmen expected to fill key roles in 2022-23. In the opening game of the season and the first true college game experience for many of the Bobcats, the task was sure to be large.
The Bluejays jumped on the board early hitting a three on the first possession. Another three and a jumper later and the Bobcats were in an 8-0 hole with less than a minute gone. Terry Gupton put the Bobcats on the board at the 8:44 mark but the Bluejays continued to apply pressure. The offense was unable to get rolling and the Bobcats soon trailed 18-2. Seth Soden drained a three to cut into the lead, but the Bobcats needed an answer to the Tabor defense. Kyle Flavin and Xavier Oduor hit back-to-back threes to give the Bobcats some life, but the momentum was heavily on the side of Tabor. The two teams began trading baskets, and the run the Bobcats needed was evasive. Matt Luebbert got into the scoring column with a free throw at the 7:55 mark and Josh Linehan hit a three with 6:40 remaining to cut into the lead. Tabor continued to answer, and the Bobcats were unable to make up ground. Seth Soden drained another pair of threes and a free throw to cut the gap to, 27-24, but Tabor put together another run and closed out the half leading 54-35.
Matt Luebbert scored the first points of the second half and the Bobcats had work to do. Tabor responded with a pair of threes and two jumpers to extend the lead and put the Bobcats deeper in the hole. Seth Soden and Andrew Mitchell each hit a three to battle back but Tabor continued to apply pressure. The Bluejays pulled away, and the Bobcats fought back. This was the norm for the opening minutes of the half, and the Bobcats could not get over the hump. Devin Carroll and Mitchell hit threes from long range inside of the 14:00 mark to claw back to a 70-49 deficit. The trend continued throughout the half and Tabor held off any challenges the Bobcats could muster. The deficit would remain the same as the clock dwindled and Tabor took the contest 94-68.
Seth Soden led the Bobcat offense with 15 points, on 4-7 shooting from beyond the arc, and narrowly missed a double-double in his first collegiate game, pulling down nine rebounds. Devin Carroll added 13 points and Josh Linehan tacked on 10. Kyle Flavin and Garrett Simmerman chipped in seven, Andrew Mitchell added six, Terry Gupton contributed four, and Xavier Oduor and Matt Luebbert each added three.
The Bobcats are back in action Saturday at William Woods University in Fulton, MO with a 3:00 tip-off.